A dramatic upswing in Hawke's Bay's jobs situation has seen the region's unemployment rate plummet from twice the national average to just over 5 per cent, new government figures show.
Official statistics for the Hawke's Bay and Gisborne regions combined yesterday revealed the regions' unemployment rate had fallen from 8.8 per cent at the end of September to just 5.6 per cent at the end of December.
However, separate figures supplied to Hawke's Bay Today by Statistics New Zealand estimate that when taken separately, Hawke's Bay's unemployment rate is closer to 5.2 per cent (down from 9.3 per cent the previously quarter), while Gisborne's unemployment rate is the higher of the two at 6.9 per cent.
The Hawke's Bay figures, which Statistics NZ said were below design level and indicative only, also suggested that not only were about 3000 fewer people unemployed at the end of the year - but there were also about 4000 more people in employment than the previous quarter.
Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wayne Walford said the figures were "great news" for the region.
Mr Walford said several companies had recently increased staffing levels, with Gemco in particular finding the current environment buoyant.
"They are employing new people every week across the trades."
In addition, Higgins Construction now has 64 vacancies nationally across its skills range.
"There are a range of initiatives like Lift and the work of TTOH [health facility Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga] and the councils being applied, plus we have more opportunity in the workplace based on business confidence.
"This time of year we start to see more horticultural opportunities, so added to the numbers for last quarter, this is very promising."
Mr Walford said he would like to see the situation improve further.
"It would be great for the region to be the most revered, not as the worst-case scenario, but the benchmark to beat."
Nationally, the unemployment rate fell 1 per cent over the final three months of last year to an all-time low of 4.5 per cent.
Hawke's Bay Business Hub operations manager Carolyn Neville said the big fall in unemployment and corresponding lift in employment came on the back of a stretch of 18 months to two years where Hawke's Bay had been poised to enjoy a period of growth.
"The primary sector where Hawke's Bay does well has been showing good returns in areas such as horticulture, forestry, seafood and through to sheep and beef," Ms Neville said.
"With a small dairy sector Hawke's Bay did not experience the same plunge as other regions over that earlier period and was well-positioned to ride it out.
"There's a trend of improving overall growth in Hawke's Bay and strong growth across a variety of indicators like traffic flows (at twice the national average) and building consents which have been rising over the past year.
"As business activities have been up over a sustained period, with an upturn in activity there's a long-term flow through into employment that's now becoming more visible in the statistics. Not necessarily the overnight success story that it appears to be but more the positive outcome of a longer-term period of solid growth."
Employment Minister Willie Jackson welcomed the fall in unemployment but said there was still more to do.
"There are still some real discrepancies that this Government needs to address," he said.
"I recently announced that the Government will invest $13 million in youth employment programmes in regions (including Hawke's Bay) with entrenched unemployment."